For the first time in 7 months, we stayed still for more than a few days and put down roots in a little rural Cambodian village, an hour outside Siem Reap. We were volunteering, teaching English at Phum Svay village school with a charity called About Asia Schools and they kindly offered us our very own traditional Khmer wooden house on stilts to live in whilst we were there.
We only had two hours of classes a day, plus some private tuition, so we thought we’d have lots of time to chill out and read. As it turned out, in between drawing pictures for class, writing tests and general living, we barely opened a book.
We’d wake up early every morning, but general living seems to take forever when you have no running water. We didn’t have a fridge and nothing keeps in 38 degree heat, so every morning we’d go and buy baguettes and bananas from a lady’s shack on the track, get out a pot of nutella and make a breakfast of champions. Then we’d carry all the washing up to the pump in the garden, machete open a coconut for the chickens, and sweep up any crumbs to deter the rats. By 10am it’s over 30 degrees and we’d be soaked with sweat, so we’d go down to the pump again and have a shower with a bucket whilst everyone cycled through our garden. At 11, it’d be time to go to the shack again and choose the least wrinkly vegetables for lunch. Once we’d cooked that, washed up at the pump again and prepared for class, it was time for school. (We have a massive amount of respect for teachers now, even after 2 hours in the classroom, we were exhausted.) Then we’d cycle to the sugarcane lady, have a juice, pick up some ingredients for dinner and get back home to start cooking before it got dark and the bugs came out. Most nights we flopped into bed shattered by 9pm. And we didn’t even have a rice field to tend to.
There were times, when our bed was invaded by an army of bugs, or when sitting on the hard wooden floor hurt our backs that we looked forward to the creature comforts of our guesthouse in Siem Reap at the weekend, but on the whole, we both said it was, in many ways, the best three weeks of the trip. We got to pick mangoes and coconuts off trees in the garden, we showered in the sunshine, we had incredible neighbours who would bring round cooked meals, little girls from school would come and tie flowers to the cactus plant by our porch, the local guys invited Mat to drink, we managed to cook pretty delicious meals on a camp stove with a head torch (fresh spring roll anyone?) and we had pet chickens! It was Cambodian village life, up close and personal and we loved it.
When we locked up on the last day, I was sad to say goodbye to our little Cambodian home. It was made a little sweeter by all the neighbours who came to wave us off as we bumped out of town on the sandy track in a tuk tuk.